Are Hydrangeas Deer Resistant or Will They Attract Deer?

Thinking of adding some hydrangeas, but live in a location that's also very populated by deer? Curious to know if hydrangeas will attract deer or if they are deer resistant? In this article, gardening expert and hydrangea enthusiast Jill Drago walks through everything you need to know about deer and hydrangeas!

Deer in a Garden With Hydrangeas

Thinking about growing some hydrangeas this season, but aren’t sure if they are going to attract deer to your yard, or prevent them from coming around? Unfortunately the answer here isn’t really all that simple. Several factors will play into this, including the variety of hydrangea, and your geographic location.

Gardening with deer can be a challenge. It’s even harder if you live in an area where deer are overpopulated, and seem to roam freely. But there are ways of gardening with them hanging around, while still keeping them happy, and maintaining our own happiness in the garden.

So, if you’d like to learn a little more about hydrangeas and deer, you’ve come to the right place! Let’s jump in and walk through what you can expect from the deer in your area if you decide to plant some hydrangeas in your garden this season.

The Short Answer

This answer is not as cut and dry as you were probably hoping for. Hydrangeas are not deer resistant. Deer will most likely leave the leaves of your hydrangeas alone, the exception to this rule is the oakleaf hydrangea. However, deer have been known to clear all of the flower buds off of a hydrangea plant.

About Hydrangeas

Blue flowering plant
Hydrangeas are flowering shrubs that prefer shade and well-drained soil.

Hydrangeas are a group of flowering shrubs that are well known and loved for their bountiful flowers. There are six different species that are popular in gardens today: anomala, arborescens, macrophylla, paniculata, quercifolia and serrata. Each of these species is different in its own right, but they all have many similarities as well.

Hydrangeas thrive in partial shade and well draining soil. The only exception to this rule is Hydrangea paniculata which is considered a sun friendly variety that needs at least 6 hours of sun or more.

Each species features a different type of blossom, the most popular being a mophead. Hydrangeas are grown for their beautiful blooms, and the key to keeping those flowers coming is to make sure you are pruning them at the correct time.

It will only take about one full growing season for your hydrangea to establish after planting. Once it has made itself at home watering and other maintenance will be minimal.

Will Deer Actually Eat Hydrangeas?

pink and blue flowering plants
Deer prefer to feed on flower buds, rather than the plant leaves.

Deer will absolutely munch on the flower buds and leaves of your hydrangea plants. It is pretty easy to spot deer damage on your plants just by looking at the leaves.

When the deer eat your hydrangeas they will pull and tear at the leaves which will leave a shredded look from the tearing of the leaves. Deer are more attracted to younger hydrangeas, probably because more of the plant is palatable to them. Older hydrangeas that get nibbled on tend to be more resilient to deer damage and will come back strong.

Do Hydrangeas Attract Deer?

Close up of pink flowers
Surrounding Hydrangeas with other tasty plants such as hosta, ivy and vegetables will attract deer to your garden.

I often refer to gardens as salad bars for wildlife. Plants such as hostas, ivy, and vegetables growing in your garden can attract deer.

Unless it is the dead of winter and the deer are having difficulty finding anything to munch on, hydrangeas themselves will not draw deer into your garden. But again, if you have surrounded them with hostas or other yummy plants there is a good chance that the deer will begin to nibble on your hydrangeas as well.

Deer Deterrents

So, now that you know hydrangeas can be eaten by deer, even if it’s not an attractant, it’s time to learn about some of the most common deterrents. There are several different ways you can deter deer from making their way to your hydrangeas, and some are easier to apply than others. Let’s take a look.

Physical Barrier

fawn behind deer net
Use deer netting or cover plants with burlap for prevention.

Over the winter it is a smart idea to wrap your hydrangeas lightly with burlap to protect your plants from being nibbled. If you live in an area with a large deer population, this will be an especially good idea since their food source may become scarce at this time.

While wrapping your plant, be gentle and avoid making too much contact with the plant itself, this will help to keep all of those precious buds safe from damage. You may want to use a few plant stakes around the plant to help with this.

During the growing season you can use a deer net to protect your plants. These nets are black and nearly invisible so they will not distract from the beauty of your hydrangeas. These nets will also work for other critters such as birds and rodents such as squirrels and chipmunks. This type of netting is simple enough to wrap around individual plants.

Other Deer Resistant Plants

Blue Globe Thistle Flowers
Deer tend to avoid plants such as Fuzzy, spiky, fragrant and grasses.

There really are not any “deer resistant” plants. If deer are hungry enough they will eat just about anything. However there are a few types of plants that they tend to avoid if they can help it, and there are quite a few popular deer resistant perennials.

Fuzzy plants

Deer don’t like the texture of the plants’ fuzzy foliage. Examples of “fuzzy plants” are lambs ear or yarrow.

Spiky plants

This one is a no brainer, no one wants to eat something sharp right? Examples of plants with spikes are echinops (or globe thistle) or sea holly.

Fragrant plants

Here we are talking about plants that have fragrant foliage, not flowers. The aroma from these plants can become confusing for the deer. Examples of fragrant plants are catmint, bee balm, or russian sage.

Grasses

They aren’t particularly fond of nibbling on ornamental grass. They may nibble on your lush lawn, but the ornamental grasses don’t provide the deer with enough sustenance and they will typically pass on these plants.

Deterrent Sprays

Deterrent Spray on Flowers
Another way to protect your plants from deer is to use a deterrent spray.

Deterrent sprays are an excellent choice for keeping the deer away from your hydrangeas. These sprays work by covering the plant in a taste or an odor or a combination of both that is unpleasant.

The only downside to these plants is you have to spray them repeatedly, and sometimes they can be quite stinky even to us humans. However, they don’t hurt the deer and will simply just keep them away from your plants.

There are many deterrent products available at garden centers, however I have had success with Liquid Fence.  Whichever product you choose to use, be sure to follow the label instructions as far as an application rate goes. Because these sprays are safe for the plant, it is usually a good idea to think about spraying your plants once a week, and again if it rains!

Plant in Containers

Potted Blue Flowers in Container
Planting in containers can be a great idea as you can move them to the garage to protect them from wildlife.

If you have a high deer population in your area and just can’t live without your hydrangeas, planting them in pots is a great way to enjoy the beauty of the plants without having to worry about them.

Container planted hydrangeas should be situated up on a deck or a patio where deer cannot reach them. Obviously leaving them at ground level in your garden will do as much good as actually planting them in the same place. But at least with containers, you have the option of moving them around.

It’s possible to overwinter potted hydrangeas outside. However, if you are dealing with a deer problem I would highly suggest moving them into your garage to avoid the flowerbuds of your hydrangea from being eaten.

Final thoughts

If you live in an area with a heavy deer population it will just take a little bit of critical thinking to plan your garden. Don’t deprive yourself of beautiful hydrangea blooms because you are afraid of deer eating them! Using fencing or deterrent sprays can help. Be patient and don’t forget that you are also playing in the deer’s home, so try to be kind! Planting other plants around your hydrangea is a great way to keep the deer at bay, and will redirect them to another spot to get their food.

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